If you think wallpaper went out with the 1960s, it’s time to revisit your interior design thinking.
Wallpaper is no longer patterned with the dainty flowers you associate with grandma's house or the flocked gold of the 1960s and '70s. Instead, it can be one of the most elegant and surprising elements in a home’s décor.
Just ask Nomita Joshi-Gupta, proprietor of Spruce on Magazine Street.
“Was it ever really out? I suppose for a while, when people thought of wallpaper, they pictured something dated,” she said. “But today, there are just so many options out there to fit the style of any house.”
An architect by training, Joshi-Gupta founded Spruce nine years ago with a partner. It became the go-to place for eco-friendly design in an era when such goods were hard to come by. But when the partner dropped out about three years ago, Joshi-Gupta had a tough decision to make.
“I could have closed or continued with the same product mix,” she said. “Or I could have pursued something related but different, something I always really wanted to do. That’s what I went with.”
The Spruce of today, just like the wallpaper of today, isn’t the Spruce of yore. Joshi-Gupta has converted the former retail business into a showroom for fabrics and, of course, wallpaper, all aimed at assisting her client base with the interior design of their homes.
“As an architect, I have always been intrigued by interior design, and I just got more and more interested in it over time,” she said. “Now when customers visit Spruce, they can get interior design services, fabrics for upholstery or draperies, and wallpaper by over 80 designers.” She has exclusive rights to the products of 20 of those designers.
As it turns out, designing wallpaper is a “thing” now, and it attracts young, contemporary designers as well as established artists looking for a new way to use their talents.
“Amanda Talley comes to mind immediately,” said Joshi-Gupta. “She is a well-respected, locally based, wildly talented artist who now designs fabric and wallpaper. Another is Flavor Paper, a company that started out here in New Orleans but eventually moved to New York. They take vintage patterns and update them with wit.”
Joshi-Gupta points out a traditional-looking wallpaper that, on close examination, has a little bat — rather than a bird — cheerfully gliding among the flowers and foliage.
“One of the ones that clients appreciate is the House of Hackney, a wacky British designer that aims to make grandma chic again. They have the rights to some old patterns that they update with color and scale,” she said.
Joshi-Gupta said many clients who have never used wallpaper or who haven’t used it in a long time begin with the powder room, a small space where they feel they have license to do something different and to take a chance.
“I told my assistant the other day something like, ‘The powder room is the gateway to the house,’” Joshi-Gupta laughed. “What I meant was that if we can help our clients feel comfortable with wallpaper there, they’ll often have enough courage to explore using it in other rooms at home.”
Just as the patterns and colors are more modern and fresh, so is the wallpaper itself, Joshi-Gupta said.
“Inks used to print the paper were smelly and used to contain chemicals that were volatile and would contribute to air pollution in the home. The wallpaper itself was laden with oil-based content and chemicals. Remember that horrible smell when you’d open a roll of wallpaper? Those were the chemicals that were off-gassing,” she said. “But now everything is water-based, and many of the inks are soy-based instead.”
Spruce tries to take the anxiety out of hanging wallpaper by having a coterie of experienced master paper-hangers available.
“We know that everyone isn’t interested in trying it themselves, so the goal is to take the guesswork out of who to hire for the job,” she said.
Walls in many old New Orleans houses are plaster and many aren’t plumb, so instructions online often need to be adapted.
“You should prime the wall first,” Joshi-Gupta said. “And if the ceiling isn’t really parallel to the floor, an experienced paper hanger knows how to ‘cheat’ a little by stretching the paper so that flaws aren’t visible.”
If you find you’re crazy about a wallpaper pattern but have trouble visualizing it in your home, try using it as an accent.
“In design magazines, it’s getting pretty common to see wallpaper behind shelves in a bookcase or in the kitchen,” Joshi-Gupta said. “One of my favorite ways to use it is as art, with a frame around it, and some people cover entire pieces of furniture with it. Wallpaper can be expensive, so lining a bookcase with it or putting it on stair risers can mean you don’t need to buy a lot for the project.”
To get a sense of the full range of wallpaper patterns and textures, go to sprucenola.com